How to Stage Manage a Show Where the Actors Change Roles Nightly

Outside the Theatre   How to Stage Manage a Show Where the Actors Change Roles Nightly Why Amanda Spooner says Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody is theatrical mountain-climbing—plus the backstage details of life as a stage manager.
Amanda Spooner
Amanda Spooner Marc J. Franklin

Who: Amanda Spooner
Outside: The Signature Theatre

Amanda Spooner is the stage manager for the world premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ newest play, Everybody, which began previews January 31 at the Signature and just extended through March 19. The show is billed as a “modern riff on the 15th Century morality play Everyman,“ and at each performance, the lead role of Everybody is chosen amongst the cast by a lottery. Director Lila Neugebauer had her hands full in preparing actors to go on for any of five different parts; now Spooner takes the lead to make it all run smoothly.

Amanda Spooner
Amanda Spooner Marc J. Franklin

How did it look rehearsing a play where some of the cast changes roles nightly?
AS: Some roles are static—four of the nine cast members play the same role, but the other five had to have an opportunity to rehearse each of the characters, including the role of Everybody. So in the rehearsal room, we had a big bingo board and it had the actors’ names and the characters’ names on it. We’d decide who would play which role on certain days and rehearse that way. They do need to know the entire play and everything that’s going on. It’s been interesting but fun! Lila has always been really clear about what her goals are, and we went into it saying: “This is the goal but we’re going to learn how to get there together.” It was a collaborative effort.

And how does it affect your job now that the show is in previews?
Typically I’d say: “Stand by lights and sound, then ‘Go’ on a cue, a word, or a feeling,” but in this show, with all the different actors playing the various roles, they all do something [onstage] that’s a little different [and makes my calls different]. It’s thrilling to leave space for that. You can’t take yourself too seriously. You have to leave space for the creation of this art and new infrastructure.

Was that challenge a welcome one?
Oh yes. I like theatrical mountain-climbing. This idea [of Everybody] is in outer space and there’s nobody that you can look to or call for advice. [Along] with the director, you’re inventing a whole new vocabulary and, to me, that is thrilling.

Do your management gigs tend to come from relationships with directors?
It’s usually the director. Sometimes it’s the producer, or the playwright. I worked on An Octoroon twice Off-Broadway, and I think it was Branden Jacobs-Jenkins who told Lila I would be a good fit for this project.

How has it been watching his evolution as a playwright since that production?
Huge! He has such an appreciation for stage managers. He believes that one of the keys to having a good production is strong stage management—if you don’t have that, you’re maybe not going to achieve the goals that you could have. He told me that the other day and it was touching. He’s been very supportive.

How long have you been stage managing?
Since high school—about 20 years ago. My first show as a teenager was Arcadia; I had auditioned but I wasn’t cast. I think I was assigned as the stage manager so the director could use my pet tortoise in the production. I got a little taste of it and loved it. It felt like an adventure.

Anyone who’s worked in theatre knows that without a stage manager there would be no show. Do you agree?
It’s much more than just calling the show. You’re the Mayor of Show Town, as we say in class, and that means you’re helping keep the show in the shape that was intended, while also recognizing that it’s a living, breathing thing. I also feel responsible for making sure that people are in a good place, and if they're not, figuring out what might help that. We play games like “Super Secret Fun Fact,” where I get a fun fact from everybody and make a quiz out of it. I don’t just include the cast, I also include people from the administrative offices, the crew, and designers. I do think the stage manager is responsible for making sure people are still enjoying the process and finding it fruitful.

To purchase tickets to Everybody call Ticket Services at (212) 244-7529 or visit SignatureTheatre.org.

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